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Tag: Booker Prize

Nobel and Booker prizes 2019: You had one job!

The Nobel Prize for Literature was announced last week and the Booker Prize for Fiction was announced yesterday. Both organizations awarded two winners, for different reasons. The Nobel double award was made up of the 2019 prize and the delayed choice of the 2018 prize, the latter having been suspended because of the discovery of corruption and worse on the part of (some members of) the committee and its allied participants. The Booker two-fer resulted from the jury’s inability to reach a decision on a single winner despite having an odd number of jurists, which rules out the possibility of a tie vote. Its decided, against both the stated rules and the exhortations of the Booker organization, to flout their terms of reference. Good times all around.

The Nobel committee awarded the 2018 prize to Olga Tokarczuk, who seems eminently deserving of the recognition. So are a lot of other authors, but that’s always the case. And hey, if the Nobel crowd can get the number of women up to 15 by choosing Tokarczuk, I’m all for that.

But then there’s the 2019 winner, Peter Handke. I have read none of his written work, although I’ve seen some of the films for which he’s written the screenplays, and they are superb. But in the Year of Our Lord 2019, why are we giving an award to someone who spoke sympathetically at Slobodan Milosevic’s funeral? Who was skeptical that massacres of Muslims by Serbs in Bosnia were actual massacres, and posited that there may not have been a genocide? It’s one thing to separate the art from the artist to recognize great art, it’s another to elevate and celebrate the artist for an entire body of writing, which is what the Nobel does.

The Booker jury’s decision is simpler and less, well, stomach-churning. A massively popular and critically acclaimed novelist, one who has been frequently mentioned for the Nobel, was recognized for a sequel novel which no one believes is as good as the original (which itself was shortlisted but did not win in its Booker year). She shares the prize with Bernardine Evaristo, whose book has been widely acclaimed by critics and Booker-focused readers, and who is highly regarded but not that well known by the reading public (much like Anna Burns, last year’s winner).

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Thoughts on the Booker Shortlist and the Giller Longlist

Yes, it’s awards season again. Labor Day is over and my library holds are coming in with a vengeance, what with all the Big September Releases. The Booker shortlist and the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist are coincidentally released on the same day. I woke up to the Booker news, which had been announced at 10am BST, and then waited for the Giller announcement to be delivered from St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador at 8:30am my time.

The Booker shortlist:

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

I’ve only read one of the six (the Obioma, which I reviewed here). That seems unusually low for me, but I do own three of them and have a fourth coming from the library in two weeks. And I’d read five of the seven longlisted books that didn’t make it. I will probably not read the Atwood any time soon. I read The Handmaid’s Tale back in the 1980s and still have my ancient mass-market paperback edition. It made a big impression on me then but I haven’t wanted to revisit it, and I had no interest in the TV adaptation. So I’ll wait for the reviews and word of mouth to see if I want to read the sequel. The Rushdie is getting mixed reviews, but I’m curious about it and I got in early on the library hold list so I can at least sample that before the winner is announced.

I was sorry not to see the Luiselli on the shortlist, especially after listening to her talk about it and read from it at the National Book Festival. My reading and reviewing of it was shaped by my knowledge of her personal life and Alvaro Enrigue’s work, but the panel I attended helped me separate that from the text, and the further away from it I get the more I think it is an excellent novel. But there are plenty of US awards coming up, and I’m sure it will be in consideration for at least some of those. Of the others, I don’t have strong feelings about their omissions from the shortlist. I enjoyed the Braithwaite and the Lanchester entries but they each had shortcomings and I don’t see them as Booker winners., I think the Barry, which I have finished and need to review, is stronger but a bit slight compared to some of the other entries. And I was the outlier on the Porter from the beginning.

On to the Giller longlist:

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Booker longlist review: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

This is the fifth longlist choice I’ve read and the second by a Nigerian author. I haven’t read Obioma’s debut, which was shortlisted for the Booker a few years ago. This novel has received generally positive reviews from book critics and more mixed reviews at GR, so I wasn’t sure how I’d do with it. And it did take me a little time to get into the rhythm, because it’s a more ornate style of writing than I generally read.

The protagonist of the novel is Chinonso, a poultry farmer in a smallish city. Chinonso’s parents have died and his sister married an older man, moved to Lagos, and became mostly estranged from her family. Chinonso’s closest relative is his uncle, who lives in a different city but visits occasionally. The narrator of the novel is Chinonso’s chi, or spirit, who inhabits his body and communicates with him but cannot direct his behavior. The novel’s beginning and major sections are bracketed by the chi’s appeals to the gods to have mercy on Chinonso in the afterlife because the bad deeds he committed need to be understood in the larger context of his life and its trials.

That life is fairly uneventful until Chinonso prevents a beautiful woman from throwing herself off a bridge. She drives away but he doesn’t forget her. In the meantime he meets other women and starts to think about life beyond the chicken coops and vegetable rows. When Ndali comes back into his life they begin a relationship that is fraught from the beginning: Chinonso is a modest chicken farmer who never went to college, while Ndali is the daughter of a Chief and is studying to become a pharmacist. When their relationship progresses, Ndali brings him home to meet the family, with predictable results. Chinonso is not ashamed of who he is, but he knows it’s not enough for her ambitious and haughty father and brother, so he resolves to turn himself into someone they will accept. Ndali worries about the ramifications of his choice, but she knows it will be nearly impossible for them as things currently stand.

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Weeknote 17

This is our last week before we hit the road and start the school ratrace again next week. And it starts up as soon as we get back. I’m just hoping for decent weather and no big thunderstorms in the plains.

WORK

I managed to get some more work done this week! Amazing. My coauthor and I have found some interesting things going on with a survey we fielded via mTurk, which may be worth a research note in the end. It’s not completely surprising that mTurk workers are not always who they say they are and that has consequences for research, and many of us have been suspicious of the platform for years, but the way this survey was skewed was intriguing.

My committee is humming along nicely. Everyone is doing their bit and we disagree without being disagreeable. Is there higher praise? I think not.

I have one more almost-finished paper draft to get off my desk and then I will breathe a sigh of relief. And start packing up.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished An Orchestra of Minorities this week. It is an unusual novel, mixing Igbo cosmology with a plot and characters which owe a great deal to classical Western literature from Homer to Milton to Shakespeare. The main character suffers so many tragedies in his life, and in the final section he becomes consumed by a desire for vengeance. The story took some turns I wasn’t expecting, which was enjoyable, and I found the main character Chinonso’s journey sad but believable and important. I agree with reviewers who say the women characters weren’t well developed, but given everyone felt like an archetype I could live with it. I also appreciated the way the trajectory Ndali, the main female character played out, neither vilified nor idealized. The ending is tragic but given the storyline, it was always going to go there somehow.

I also finished Ironopolis, one of my 20 Books of Summer picks, which I had been picking up and putting down for the last month. It’s very good, but it’s a hard read. Set in Middlesborough from the mid-1980s through the present, it tells the story of a sink estate through the voices of half a dozen characters who are connected to each other in various ways. It negotiates the difficult line between sentimentalizing and condescending, but there’s no way around the fact that the lives of people in these positions mostly became worse over this period, as jobs went away, housing fell into disrepair, and drugs and alcohol became plentiful and/or cheap. Of the various books I’ve read with spirits and rural-English mythical beings, I thought this one handled it as well as any. I’ll write up a full review of this and the Obioma soonish.

No TV or movies this week, because we had a friend visiting who helped TheH with necessary household work. We now have a new floor in the guest bathroom and various other improvements. Go them. We ate well, though; lots of fresh fish from the boats at Half Moon Bay.

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Booker Longlist Review: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

This is the fourth book I’ve read from the longlist. I had read Luiselli’s previous nonfiction work, Tell Me How It Ends, which describes her experiences as a translator for children apprehended at the border, and I thought it was excellent. This is a much longer and more complex work of fiction, with multiple storylines and themes. It may have too much going on, but its ambition should not be held against it.

This novel falls squarely within the current trend of autofiction and combines a road trip, a marriage that is ending, and twin stories of children becoming lost in the southern Arizona desert. As I said, there’s a lot going on. The characters in the main storyline comprise a blended family of four who are traveling from New York to southern Arizona on a long, fairly leisurely automobile journey. The husband and wife are documentary sound specialists, by which they mean scholars and artists who record all kinds of sounds that help them understand and illuminate the built and natural worlds in which we live. The father is embarking on a new project set in Apacheria, the part of the United States that was the home of the Apache nation before they were massacred by Americans (and previously Mexicans) and relocated to reservations. The mother is continuing a project that records the sounds of unaccompanied children and southern border migration. Their two children, a girl aged six and a boy aged ten, are with them on the trip.

The family road trip aspect of the novel is structured by the journey and their work, which is contained in seven bankers’ boxes in the back of the station wagon. They contain supplementary material, including archival resources, and also the children’s selections for the journey (toys, books, photos). Along the way the mother reads from a book, Elegies for Lost Children, which tells the story of seven unaccompanied children who are riding La Bestia, the train to the US border, and that journey serves as something of a parallel roadtrip. The two storylines are brought together in the last section of novel, which is told from the son’s point of view; all the preceding narrative has been from the mother’s perspective.

The mother’s narrative ranges far and wide, from mundane and not-so-mundane observations of people and places along the road, to recollections and quotes from scholarly and creative books she’s read, to internal monologues about her husband and marriage. The husband is present as the driver and fellow artist, but he’s almost entirely silent, except for a few times when he talks directly to the children and less often to her. Luiselli namechecks many writers and thinkers, which fit into the flow of the story for me because I knew who most of them were. But if you aren’t as familiar with this literature it could be distracting or annoying. Some readers found it self-conscious and pretentious. I enjoyed it.

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